August 13, 2023
Despite the popularity of the .270 Win., there hasn’t been a wide variety of .277 caliber cartridges offered to hunters over the years. That changed in 2001 when Winchester released its .270 Winchester Short Mag., which offered better ballistics than the .270 Win. in a short action.
While some of Winchester’s other short magnums didn’t fare well, the .270 WSM did. Because it could be built in light, short-action rifles, it was suitable for light mountain rifles, and it shot flatter and hit harder than its .270 Win. cousin and carried about 150 additional foot-pounds of energy—while producing less recoil than the .300 magnums. Hunters liked what they saw and bought lots of .270 WSM rifles.
A lot has happened in the cartridge world since 2001, and one of the biggest changes was the move to high-ballistic-coefficient bullets. This prompted the designers at Winchester to create their own high-BC .277 round. Engineers shortened the .270 WSM case from .2100 inch to .2020 inch while increasing overall cartridge length by .095 inch. This allowed the round to accommodate heavier, longer 160-, 165- and even 175-grain .277 bullets.
Winchester called the new round the 6.8 Western. Dropping the “.270” designation in favor of 6.8 was likely the Winchester marketing team’s effort to point out that this cartridge was larger than the competing 6.5 PRC, which some considered too light for big stuff like elk and moose. But the Western name is also a nod to the Western Cartridge Company that Franklin Olin founded in 1898.
Winchester and Browning began offering rifles chambered for the new cartridge that sported a faster 1:8 twist rate to stabilize the heavy bullets.
Does the advent of this new catridge mean you should dump your .270 WSM? Let’s compare Winchester’s Copper Impact hunting loads for both.
The .270 WSM Copper Impact load has a 130-grain bullet with a .418 BC. Muzzle velocity is 3,215 fps. That’s a lot faster than the 6.8 Western Copper Impact, which is a 162-grain bullet with a .564 BC launched at 2,875 fps.
Zero the Copper Impact .270 WSM load at 200 yards and it drops 5.8 inches at 300 yards, 17 inches at 400 yards and 34.7 at 500 yards. With the same zero, the 6.8 Western Copper Impact 162-grain load drops 7.0 inches at 300 yards, 20.0 inches at 400 and -39.8 inches at 500 yards.
But trajectories don’t tell the whole story. The .270 WSM produces 10 more foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle than the 6.8 Western load, but at 200 yards the 6.8 Western is carrying 2,342 ft.-lbs. of energy compared to 2,186 for the .270 WSM load—a 156 ft.-lbs. advantage for the 6.8 Western. By 500 yards the 6.8 Western carries 279 more foot-pounds of energy than the .270 WSM, and the gap widens from there.
The 6.8’s high-BC bullets also drift a little less in the wind. In a 10 mph full-value crosswind, at 300 yards the .270 WSM 130-grain load drifts about an inch more in the wind than the 162-grain 6.8 Western. At 500 yards the .270 WSM drifts more than three inches than the 6.8 does.
There are plenty of used .270 WSM rifles floating around, but it’ll likely be awhile before you see many used 6.8 rifles on the rack. New .270 WSM rifles are available from a number of companies, but it seems Winchester and Browning are favoring the 6.8. There are currently 10 Browning X-Bolt models available in .270 WSM versus 23 in 6.8 Western. When it comes to ammo, MidwayUSA currently lists 26 .270 WSM load offerings compared to just six 6.8 Western loads.
Should you trade in your .270 WSM for a 6.8 Western? If you like to shoot at long distances, the 6.8 Western does offer noteworthy advantages. For the average hunter who isn’t shooting game beyond 400 yards, both of these cartridges are excellent performers.
+ Flatter shooting under 400 yards and greater maximum point-blank range
+ Lots of used guns available (possibly cheap) as hunters fall in love with high-BC cartridges and rifles
+ Brass and appropriate weight bullets more available
- Companies getting behind 6.8 may erode .270 WSM ammunition and rifle availability going forward
- Not as well suited for long-range hunting and shooting
- Drifts more in the wind, which can be harder to compensate for than holdover at known distances
+ The first true high-BC .277 hunting round
+ Companies like Seekins Precision and Christensen Arms are now offering rifles
+ A better option for the hunter who also likes to shoot long range
- Winchester offering ammunition…will others?
- Are advantages compelling reason for .270 WSM owners to switch?
- Slight uptick in felt recoil